The special Covid crisis of British capitalism

Britain could well end up with the highest Covid death rate in Europe, fuelling the accumulating anger at the government’s handling of the crisis. While the union tops have largely vacated the field and Keir Starmer’s Labour leadership election was a victory for the capitalist establishment, that anger will find an outlet in a society being turned upside down by the crisis. HANNAH SELL writes.

On the surface Britain’s government did not seem the worst prepared for the corona pandemic. Prime minister Boris Johnson had led the Tories to election victory just three months earlier with the biggest parliamentary majority for the Conservative Party since 1987. In 2019 Britain had been found to be the second best prepared for a pandemic of 190 countries, beaten only by the US. As the pandemic has developed, however, while no government has taken the necessary measures to fully defend the working class from its effects, Britain has had one of the most ineffectual responses of the major capitalist powers.

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Saboteurs at the heart of Labour’s apparatus

An internal Labour Party report, leaked to the British media over the Easter weekend in April, has detailed sabotage by senior party officials of the attempts by former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to radicalise Labour policies. It accuses senior party officials of working for Labour’s defeat in the 2017 general election.

The report, a mammoth 851 pages long, is entitled ‘The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014-2019’. It quotes from transcripts of thousands of emails and WhatsApp discussions between Labour’s senior officials, particularly in the 2015-2018 era before the appointment of the current general secretary, Jennie Formby.

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Beefing up the state

What role will the state play in the post-pandemic world? That question is posed by the economic measures, but also by the major powers granted in the new coronavirus laws.

Behind the ‘all in it together’ national unity line, capitalist governments world-wide are beefing up their powers to deal with the increased class struggle that is widely predicted. As IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath put it: “If the crisis is badly managed and it’s viewed as having been insufficient to help people, you could end up with social unrest”. There is no if about it.

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New Labour’s real NHS legacy

Despite the heroic efforts of healthworkers the NHS has been ill-prepared to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. But the roots of this lie in years of neo-liberal policies, including the marketisation drive of the New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, argues JON DALE.

Ten years of ConDem coalition and Tory austerity left the NHS ill-prepared for the sudden huge increase in very ill patients suffering from Covid-19. Over 100,000 unfilled staff posts (one in twelve), 17,000 fewer beds to their lowest level ever, equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) stockpiles run down – these resulted from annual 1% funding increases when 4% was needed just to stand still.

Financial cuts were aggravated by years of upheaval following Tory Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act (2012). This caused such disruption to services that even his successor, Jeremy Hunt, was forced to row back on some of its measures. Lansley wanted NHS services provided by ‘any willing provider’ – private companies who would tender to win contracts. In a dire financial situation the lowest tenders were always likely to be picked, whatever the price in terms of quality. The drive towards privatisation has weakened NHS capacity to respond to Covid-19’s challenge.

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The end of the Five Star episode

The most striking political development in Italy arising from the 2007-08 financial crash was the rise of the populist Five Star Movement, which emerged as the biggest single party with over ten million votes in 2018. But now the bubble has burst and, with anger rising as the coronavirus crisis ravages Italy, the task for the workers’ movement to build its own party is urgently posed. CHRISTINE THOMAS draws the lessons from the Five Star episode.

In the March 2018 general election, the Five Star Movement (M5S) secured a national vote of nearly 33%. In the ten years since comedian Beppe Grillo’s online followers began tentatively to stand candidates in elections, it went from a small, fringe protest group to become the most voted party in Italy, and one of the most successful populist parties internationally. Two years later, its support had fallen by more than 50%.

As the coronavirus crisis ravages Italy, M5S is in the governing coalition with the capitalist Democratic Party (PD), and various split offs from the PD. Even before the crisis, on 22 January, its then leader Luigi Di Maio resigned – the equivalent of a captain leaving a sinking vessel. Almost 30 MPs and senators had already jumped ship or been pushed overboard.

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Global Warning: Even bankers see climate catastrophe ahead

Which firm bankrolls the destruction of the planet? JP Morgan Chase stands first in line, according to the Rainforest Action Network, which lists the US-based multinational investment bank as the premier financier of fossil fuels during the period 2016-2018. The Guardian asserts that JP Morgan provided $75bn in financial services to fracking and Arctic oil and gas exploration in that time.

Now, the bank has produced a report, Risky Business: the climate and the macroeconomy, (January 2020) which at first glance looks like a veritable conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus.

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A different sort of Churchill myth

The End is Nigh: British politics, power and the road to WWII

By Robert Crowcroft

Published by Oxford University Press, 2019, £25

Reviewed by Dave Murray

When you open a book entitled The End is Nigh you have to wonder which catastrophe the author is anticipating. When that book is an academic take on the interwar years, it says a lot that the disaster exercising the historian’s mind is not the rise of fascism, the coming of a globe-spanning war, the genocide of European Jewry, or the derailing of the Russian revolution, but the 1945 Labour government and the new social settlement ushered in after the war – which Robert Crowcroft describes as an “utter catastrophe”.

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Parasitic capitalism

Damaged Goods: The Rise and Fall of Sir Philip Green

By Oliver Shah

Published by Penguin, 2019, £9.99

Reviewed by Iain Dalton

With last autumn’s release of the film Greed, a satire loosely based on the life of Philip Green, and the man himself in the news once again around a pension scandal, this time suspending payments into the Arcadia group pension fund, this story of how his custodianship of British Home Stores (BHS) ended in crisis is especially relevant.

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